I was saved by Matryona Ivanovna Adamovich. When the war began, I lived in a cottage near Minsk in the village of Drozdy with my sister, Anya (twelve years old), and our nanny, Matryona Ivanovna Adamovich. I was two years old. Like all working parents, Mom and Dad came to see us on Sundays. My mother, Riva Solomonovna Hodakova, a medical doctor by profession, was at the front from the first days of war. Our dad, Naum L.Finkelstein, managed to take us only as far as the town of Orsha because he had to appear before the draft board at his place of residence. He was killed in autumn 1941 in the battles near Mogilev.
Of course, I cannot remember the beginning of the war. Just about everything I know I learned from Matryona Ivanovna’s words. She quickly realized that it would be impossible to survive with two Jewish children in Orsha, which the Nazis already occupied, so she led us, mostly on foot, in search of a quieter place. Sometimes strangers took pity on us and gave us a ride on their horse carts. When we got to the village of Gorbatsevich, we were taken in by Ivan and Agatha Vasilchonok. These kind people opened their house to us out of the goodness of their hearts, for we had no money to pay them for lodging and meals. Like the majority of refugees, we had left with nothing when German bombs started falling on our heads. But most importantly, the Vasilchonoks risked their lives! By then it was already clear that the Nazis would destroy not only the Jews but also those who dared to shelter them or who simply did not report people suspected of being Jews to the Nazis. From the first days Matryona Ivanovna helped Agatha in the household: she knew how to do any work— to reap, mow, milk the cows, and do all other chores performed by rural residents. Later she also worked for various people in this village, and she was paid mostly with food for her labor. Some villagers quickly figured out that Anya and I were Jewish children, and they reported us to the German commandant. Fortunately, this village’s head man was a wonderful person with the last name Pantiukh. I do not remember his or his wife’s first name; however, his wonderful wife came running to our hostess, Agatha, and warned her that German policemen were coming with a search warrant. We escaped into the woods. The next time that Agatha was warned, she hid us in the cellar under the potatoes. The situation was alarming: if we were discovered, we and our hosts would be killed. It was decided that the host’s daughter, Anna Vasilchonok, who was linked to the partisans, would bring my sister, Anya, to them.
After Anya left, we were not disturbed anymore, especially after Matryona Ivanovna baptized me in the Orthodox Church, passing me off as her own child. About a year later, our Anya died “a hero’s death, fulfilling the task ordered by the head of partisan detachment.” At least that’s the way it was written in the certificate issued to our mother in 1945 by the headquarters of the partisan movement. What kind of task was given to our Anya, who was only a thirteen-year-old girl? Only God knows.
After the liberation of Byelorussia, my mother, who survived the war and finished it in Berlin, found us with help from Matryona Ivanovna’s sister, Anna Ivanovna, who lived in the village of Glisnovka (later renamed Borki, Polotsk District, Vitebsk Region). By that time, Anna Ivanovna already knew where we were. In 1945 my mother was demobilized and came for us, and we returned to her native Minsk. Later my mother remarried, and Matryona Ivanovna nursed my new half-sister, Svetlana, who was born in 1947. When I got married, Matryona Ivanovna moved in with me, and she brought up my daughter, Katya. Until her death, Matryona Ivanovna was not just an equal member of our family but the most beloved and cherished one. Matryona Ivanovna Adamovich died on August 6, 1986, at age ninety-three. She was posthumously awarded the title “Righteous Among the Nations.”
A commemorative plaque with her name has been installed at the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center.
Written by Zoya Nikiforovich, Never Heard, Never Forget: Vol. I, 2017